Much as K.A. Applegate’s Animorph series tell a story about a group of kids bonding with one another while adventuring worlds and physically transforming into a variety of animals, the books are also an examination of the devastating impacts that ongoing wars, imperialism, and slavery have on societies.
Though the human heroes were almost always Animorphs’ primary focus, some of the most important moments in the series’ larger story actually took place long before humanity became involved in the war between the telepathic, centaur-like Andalites and the parasitic, slug-like Yeerks.
The Hork-Bajir Chronicles, a companion novel to the core Animorphs books, doesn’t tell the full story of how the Andalites’ and Yeerks’ respective quests for power fundamentally reshaped the galaxy, but it provides some of the most fascinating context and nuance to ideas that defined Animorphs as a whole.
It’s morphing time. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Scholastic is teaming up with Picturestart to produce a film adaptation of Animorphs — i.e. the books that made you think you could become your own dog. What, just me?Read more
Before making initial contact with the Andalites, the more technologically advanced of the species, the Yeerks lived simple lives on their homeworld, where their vast intellectual skills were severely hampered by their physiological limitations. Without host bodies to take control over by inserting themselves into a creature’s ear canal to gain access to its brain, Yeerks were unable to exist outside of naturally occuring pools where they could swim and absorb a special kind of radiant energy needed for their survival.
Upon first arriving on the Yeerk homeworld, the Andalite prince Seerow saw fit to gift the Yeerks with information about the universe in an attempt to establish a peaceful relationship between the two alien species, but in time the Yeerks would come to betray their former allies. Armed with the Andalites’ morphing technology, stolen weaponry, and deeper understanding of the stars, the Yeerks would come to eventually launch a massive campaign to colonise countless other planets in the name of the Yeerk homeworld. That led to the beginning of the Andalite-Yeerk war and the creation of Seerow’s Kindness, an Andalite law forbidding their kind to ever share their technology with non-Andalites ever again.
The Hork-Bajir Chronicles tells the story of how a disgraced Seerow and his daughter Aldrea become entangled in the lives of the Hork-Bajir, a species of pacifist, tree-dwelling aliens who become the Yeerks’ latest targets for enslavement after the Andalites’ draw attention to the Hork-Bajir’s planet. Because of the Andalites’ difficult history with becoming too involved in the lives of other species, Seerow and Aldrea’s interactions with the Hork-Bajir are mostly observational, and focused on making sure that the Hork-Bajir don’t become the latest species to be enslaved by the Yeerks. Seerow’s guilt over giving the Yeerks a means of becoming a colonising force factors largely into his tendency to play paternalistic protector to Dak Hamee, a young Hork-Bajir he and Aldrea encounter soon after they first arrive on the planet.
Unlike the Andalites, who travelled among the stars in their ships, the Hork-Bajir were content to live in relative peace, climbing the massive trees unique to their planet where they’d raised their families for generations. For Seerow, the Hork-Bajir’s general lack of understanding of the larger universe made it easy for him to feel as if it was his duty to take lead in protecting them. But Aldrea’s interactions with Dak reveal that the Hork-Bajir are capable of deeper thought than the Andalites initially believe they are.
Even though conceptual, abstract thinking isn’t exactly a mainstay of Hork-Bajir culture, every so often, special Hork-Bajir with an innate ability for deep, reflective thought known as Seers are born, and average Hork-Bajir believe them to be harbingers of great change sent by their creators Father Deep (the ground) and Mother Sky (the sky). The more time that Aldrea spends with Dak, the broader his perception of the world around him becomes, and even though they’re completely new concepts to him, things like the existence of other stars and planets make sense to him as he learns them from their conversations.
Just Dak and Aldrea begin to see one another as friends and it seems as if their bond is going to lead to a lasting cooperation between the Andalites and the Hork-Bajir, the Yeerks arrive prepared to invade the planet and take control of every single living being they can capture. By casting both Aldrea and Dak as its heroes, The Hork-Bajir Chronicles sidesteps a number of the narrative pitfalls that tend to pop up in stories about Chosen Ones. The pair also keep the book from veering too deeply into an Avatar or Dances With Wolves foreign saviour complex, as Dak comes to understand that the Andalites’ and Yeerks’ willingness to engage in war is reason enough for him to push back against any assertions of cultural superiority that the Aldrea and the other Andalites might feel over the Hork-Bajir.
The Yeerks are undoubtedly The Hork-Bajir Chronicles’ villains, and the book pulls you into the slugs’ world by spending a fair amount of time telling its tale from the perspective of Esplin 9466, the first Yeerk to ever infest a Hork-Bajir and lead the invasion of their planet. Esplin comes to do terrible, monstrous things in the name of the Yeerk empire, but The Hork-Bajir Chronicles also explores the existential powerlessness that Yeerks feel in their natural states, even as they bask in the warmth of the energy tanks they periodically have to return to in order to stay alive.
Without another body to control, Yeerks have no real means of experiencing their surroundings aside from sonar, and for them, inhabiting another body is an experience akin to feeling alive for the first time. The Yeerks’ desire to drink in sensory stimulation and exert their agency is so strong that they’re more than willing to destroy others, despite the fact that the Andalites were originally willing to cooperate with the Yeerks if only they would have been willing to co-exist with others peacefully.
Regardless of whether you come to The Hork-Bajir Chronicles having read the other books before or not, it sets a complex backdrop that gives Animorphs as a whole so much more gravity. It makes you understand that many of the earliest heroes of the Andalite-Yeerk war didn’t have the luxury of growing up blissfully unaware of the conflict’s existence. The Hork-Bajir Chronicles isn’t the kind of story that’s likely to factor into the upcoming Animorphs movie that’s meant to heat into production at some point in the near-ish future. But should this renewed interest in the Animorphs franchise lead to anything ongoing — more films, series, etc. — in the future, the Hork-Bajir’s history should become a central part of the new mythos.